Local Politics

Durham sheriff helps get dozens of jail inmates registered to vote

Posted October 9, 2020 6:26 p.m. EDT
Updated October 9, 2020 8:31 p.m. EDT

— Dozens of newly registered voters in Durham County will be able to cast their ballots in the upcoming election, and many of them likely didn't know they could.

Sheriff Clarence Birkhead said he places a high priority in making sure those who are incarcerated know their rights, including the right to vote.

"It's important that, even if you're incarcerated, you have a right to vote," Birkhead said. "It's amazing that I encounter so many people who think they can't vote because of a felony conviction years ago, and that's just not the case."

"The folks who temporarily lose the right to vote are those who have been convicted of a felony, but only while they are serving the sentence, said Caitlin Metzguer, deputy director of You Can Vote, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group that works to educate and empower voters across the state.

You Can Vote has partnered with the Durham County Sheriff's Office since 2016.

"It's critical that we have partnerships with them, especially with county sheriffs, because so many voters who are currently in detention centers do not know that they are eligible," Metzguer said.

Birkhead said the partnership helped register 63 people in the county jail as voters.

"That is a tremendous number, up from – I think our number was in the teens last election," he said. "Clearly, in this environment, every vote counts."

Metzguer said she's excited anytime she can register someone to vote.

"It's great anytime we go talk to a new voter, whether it's someone who's just turning 18 or whether it's someone who's just coming off probation or parole and hasn't voted in maybe a decade and didn't realize they were eligible," she said.

"Having them be able to come in and look at this population, who for so many did not realize they could vote and give them an opportunity to vote, I think it's incredible," Birkhead said.

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